Which procession?

Readings
Psalm 118.1–2, 19–29
Matthew 21.1–11

Some understand what is right; others understand what will sell.—Confucius

Good morning! My name is Zack. I’m in business here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good indeed—and it’s all because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods. And no one but no one gets in their way.

The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.

I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them by force! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? The Romans make sure that even more people die on crosses!

And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. Reuben told me it was ‘collateral damage’.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go to the procession. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.

So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first, I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.

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Sermon: On death

Avril Hannah-Jones’ sermon today is too moving not to share. Please read it.

Source: Sermon: On death

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Can these bones live?

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14
John 11.17–45

It’s 6 April in a few days’ time, on Thursday. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty nine years ago for the arithmetically challenged). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. I’ve already told you about that time, but today want to say a bit more.

The night before, 5 April, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.

I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man, the best who’d ever lived. I was shocked and distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated just the day before, 4 April 1968. I felt confused about life.

I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. And that was important to me. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were really quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit (over 40 minutes as I recall!).

Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not even knowing how to find them later.

But I just couldn’t stay in my seat.

It strikes me that I can identify with Lazarus. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion—it was a command, a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.

Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well have been dead.

As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? In the story, Lazarus was just dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?

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Blind/Not blind

Readings
1 Samuel 16.1–13
John 9.1–41

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.—C. S. Lewis

____________________

In the readings we heard today from 1 Samuel and the Gospel of John, we find one striking similarity: people are talked about as if they are not there. Instead of speaking to them, people act as though they are somehow invisible.

The disciples talk about the man born blind:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

His neighbours talk about him:

Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?

Finally, he speaks himself:

I am the man.

It reminds me of that line in the film The Elephant Man, where he has had enough of being treated like an object of fear and pity:

I AM A MAN!!!

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The Samaritan Theologian

Reading
John 4.5–42

God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to go offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.—Henri Nouwen

____________________

When we read the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, we should first remember and retain one thing: it follows straight on from his encounter with Nicodemus.

I was told I was a bit harsh on Nicodemus last week. So let me give you my opinion, rather than the various opinions of scholars; my opinion is that Nicodemus did come into the light by the end of John’s story of Jesus; I think he came in a series of steps through progressively lighter hues of grey. But like so many of us, he took his time. He listened to his fears, like the Israelites in the wilderness story. That’s not the way forward.

Yet here, today, when we meet the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus is still in the darkness. He hasn’t yet walked into the light. So here’s the thing: the Samaritan woman is a total contrast to Nicodemus. Walking from chapter 3 into chapter 4 of John is like stepping into another world.

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Deeper Meanings

Reading
John 3.1–17

I believe in order to understand—St. Augustine

I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand—St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Today, I want to begin by talking about how to read John’s Gospel. Reading the scriptures more intentionally is part of a good self-discipline for Lent, so I hope this may be of help. Here’s the point I want to make:

There are double meanings all the way through John. You’ll find a superficial meaning and a deeper meaning. And the deeper meaning is the one John wants us to ‘get’. But the people around Jesus often see the superficial meaning first.

Today the Lectionary gives us the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus ‘by night’.

Nicodemus was an educated man, but also an educated clot. You see educated clots all over the place. I am one: a degree in medicine, a PhD in theology, can’t fix a tap.

Today, I’d like to ‘unpack’ a few things about this well-known story.

Firstly, and most importantly: Nicodemus just doesn’t get it. He’d be great at Advanced Moses Studies, but he can’t ‘get’ this teacher from—of all places—Nazareth. When Jesus says

I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.

Nicodemus responds,

How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time!

All Nicodemus can get is that superficial meaning. You can just see Jesus doing a face-palm.

You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this?

Jesus is of course speaking of a deeper meaning—a new birth, a birth he describes as a birth of water and the Spirit.

It’s not about tapping dear old mum on the shoulder, sitting her down with a cup of strong sweet tea and explaining an entirely novel idea to her.

Let me say it again: all the way through the Gospel of John this happens. People don’t get what Jesus says. They think he’s talking about earthly realities, but in fact he is speaking of spiritual truths.

The very deepest meanings of John reveal to us the heavenly Father, and they reveal the Father through the words and works of the Son.

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Tempted

Readings
Genesis 2.15–17; 3.1–7
Matthew 4.1–11

Every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice. Lyman Abbott

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The First Sunday in Lent begins as usual with the story of Jesus’ temptations. This is how Jesus begins his ministry, tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I’ve seen the Judean wilderness; if you’ve seen it too, you’ll know it’s pretty desolate.

I wouldn’t want to spend forty days there. Certainly not without food.

Yet Jesus didn’t go to this bleak place by accident. He didn’t take a wrong turn on his way back to the Galilee after his baptism. Matthew tells us ‘Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’. Luke’s Gospel also says the Spirit ‘led’ him; Mark says the Spirit ‘drove’ him there.

It was deliberate; Jesus was there for a reason, and that was to be ‘tempted by the devil’.

Now, Jesus had just been been baptised; the Spirit had come upon him, and a voice from heaven had declared

This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

‘This is my Son…’

But instead of receiving a right royal welcome as God’s beloved Son, Jesus is ‘led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’.

Strange way to treat the Son of God.

The Royal Road for the Son of God is the descending way of humility.

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